FEA­TURE CAR

New Zealand Classic Car - - 2014 Ferrari 458 Speciale -

Our plan was to pho­to­graph the car at night. Park­side’s art di­rec­tor Mark Tate and chief shut­ter-man Adam Croy had a few tricks up their sleeves which they were keen to experiment with, re­sult­ing in some fairly spec­tac­u­lar shots, as you can see here.

Af­ter a few hours watch­ing Adam and Mark ap­ply their skills in vir­tual dark­ness, it was my turn to take the car for a drive, al­beit at 11.30pm, but as it turned out, that wasn’t a bad thing. The less traf­fic the bet­ter — in­deed, if noth­ing else that seemed to be a prov­i­den­tially plau­si­ble ex­cuse.

How­ever, I was not pre­pared for what I was about to ex­pe­ri­ence. In fact try­ing to con­jure up enough mo­tor-noter pur­ple prose and su­perla­tives to con­vey my brief en­counter with this in­cred­i­ble ma­chine left me in some­what of a quandary — and only one word was flash­ing clearly in my head af­ter shut­ting down the 4.5-litre V8, pre­car­i­ously nes­tled just cen­time­tres be­hind my spine, af­ter fi­nally park­ing it up in the owner’s garage. Bru­tal!

Hav­ing ex­pe­ri­enced sev­eral ex­cep­tional ve­hi­cles over the last few years, I reached the con­clu­sion — af­ter my nerves and in­ter­nal or­gans had set­tled down — that it doesn’t, or in­deed can’t, surely, get much bet­ter than this lim­ited-pro­duc­tion Fer­rari 458 Speciale. I mean to say, where do man­u­fac­tur­ers of ex­otic su­per­cars such as Fer­rari go from here?

I was left ask­ing my­self how much faster, how many more tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments — in terms of on­board elec­tronic per­for­mance-en­hanc­ing wiz­ardry com­bined with such things as tyre tech­nol­ogy and en­gines with enough power to pro­duce suf­fi­cient ac­cel­er­a­tion to re­duce ev­ery­one but those of strong will into a blither­ing ner­vous wreck — are there left?

Fasterer and Fu­ri­ouser

For the mo­ment though — as if the stan­dard, muchac­claimed 458 Italia wasn’t suf­fi­cient — Fer­rari, in its in­fi­nite wis­dom, ob­vi­ously came to the con­clu­sion that adren­a­line junkies and well-heeled su­per­car en­thu­si­asts wanted more from their week­end track war­rior. In fact, some­thing ‘speciale.’

No prob­lem, open up the pranc­ing-horse recipe book and ap­ply the same nec­es­sary di­etary in­gre­di­ents as the 430 Scud­e­ria — but make it lighter.

In do­ing so — and car­ry­ing on where the 430 Scud­e­ria left off — Fer­rari trimmed the 458’s waist­line by an im­pres­sive 90kg, ren­der­ing it down to a more slim­line 1387kg thanks to the re­moval of such un­nec­es­sary crea­ture com­forts as an au­dio

torque re­mains the same, it’s now spread more widely across the en­gine’s op­er­at­ing range. Ac­cord­ing to Fer­rari, the re­sult of all this tin­ker­ing means that the Speciale can de­mol­ish the bench­mark 0–100kph dash in three sec­onds flat. The fi­nal proof was in the pud­ding, so to speak — test­ing the 458 Speciale at Fer­rari’s Fio­rano track re­sulted in a lap time of 83.5 sec­onds, 1.5 sec­onds up on the stan­dard Italia, mis­sion ac­com­plished!

F1-inspired

As I climbed into the pas­sen­ger seat and pulled the feath­er­weight door shut firmly on this ‘track’ ver­sion of the 458 Italia, my first thought, as we idled up the long drive­way des­per­ately try­ing not to wake up the en­tire neigh­bour­hood in the process, was whether the owner was ac­tu­ally go­ing to let me drive this in­cred­i­ble thing? That is, af­ter he’s warmed ev­ery­thing up for me — some­thing that he ac­com­plished, well let’s just say, in fine style.

A colour­ful dis­play high­light­ing tem­per­a­tures for all the im­por­tant stuff such as en­gine, brakes and tyres con­firmed that the car was ready for ac­tion.

Once out on some fairly de­serted coun­try roads, fol­low­ing a few eye-wa­ter­ing demos of just what this car was ca­pa­ble of, the Speciale’s owner pulled over and said the fate­ful words — “OK, now it’s your turn!”

With a high de­gree of ner­vous an­tic­i­pa­tion, I slith­ered gen­tly into the driver’s seat. With the mo­tor still run­ning, the raspy en­gine idle clearly au­di­ble in­side the sparse cock­pit, I was given a run­down on a few of the giz­mos avail­able in the car’s com­pre­hen­sive elec­tronic reper­toire.

Now that I was in con­trol of this mid-en­gined sprinter, all my senses had kicked into high gear, and ac­com­pa­nied by a fren­zied ex­haust note, there was lit­tle doubt­ing the Speciale’s track-go­ing in­tent. With a pull on the right-side car­bon-fi­bre shift pad­dle, the car en­gaged first gear, await­ing for foot pres­sure on the ac­cel­er­a­tor be­fore it au­to­mat­i­cally re­leased the clutch and cat­a­pulted the Speciale for­ward. I found the driv­ing po­si­tion un­usu­ally low and the form-fit­ting, op­tional car­bon-fi­bre rac­ing seats sur­pris­ingly comfy. In­tent on keep­ing my eyes firmly

the ex­tent of my skills, or lack of same, by at­tempt­ing to push the car to its lim­its. Any­way, look­ing for the Speciale’s lim­its on the public road would be hugely in­ap­pro­pri­ate. Hav­ing said that, the in­tu­itive SSC and flash adap­tive/damp­ing sys­tem aren’t the only fancy bits of high-tech wiz­ardry work­ing away to keep all four wheels firmly glued to terra firma. The Speciale also in­cor­po­rates a se­ries of flaps in the front grille that open at speed, di­rect­ing air un­der­neath to aero­dy­nam­i­cally bal­ance the car front and rear, while elec­tri­cally con­trolled flaps in the rear dif­fuser pro­vide low drag in a straight line while ap­ply­ing high down-force dur­ing hard cor­ner­ing — and that’s all cru­cial if you’re plan­ning a few quick laps on your lo­cal race track.

As you’d ex­pect, ac­cel­er­a­tion from any speed is neck­snap­pingly rapid and, al­lied to all that go, stop­ping this beast re­quires the best set of picks in the busi­ness. Tucked in be­hind the 20-inch forged al­loys are mas­sive car­bon-ce­ramic drilled brake ro­tors flanked by equally im­pres­sive multi-pis­ton Brembo brake calipers. When set­ting out from cold, the huge brake pads need warm­ing up to op­ti­mal tem­per­a­ture, but once heated they are very easy to mod­u­late, and there’s no hint of fade. In fact, like many ex­otics of this cal­i­bre, the Speciale is not ex­empt from be­ing able to pro­duce more brak­ing ca­pa­bil­ity than grip, and re­lies on the anti-lock brak­ing sys­tem to keep the rigid, light­weight alu­minium chas­sis track­ing straight.

Af­ter my brief and ex­hil­a­rat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of open­road driv­ing, we headed into the ‘burbs’ to see what the Speciale felt like at more mun­dane town speeds. Un­like clas­sic Fer­raris of the past, this one felt to­tally at ease around town although, to be fair, there was very lit­tle traf­fic to con­tend with at that time of night. As well, with all set­tings back to ‘nana’ mode, the car felt smooth and rel­a­tively quiet in­side.

Alas, my fun be­hind the wheel of this re­mark­able car

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